Advice for the Sandwich Generation: a Mini Q&A with an Expert

When I first heard of the phrase, sandwich generation, I naturally thought I was a member, just as I would have figured people were talking about me if they had said the Pizza Generation or the Ice Cream Generation... Sigh, I really do need to drop a few pounds. Anyway, as many of you likely know, the sandwich generation refers to the time of your life when you're probably still taking care of your kids to some degree -- maybe they're finishing high school or starting college -- and the time of your life when you're taking care of your parents -- like running errands for them, helping them fill out insurance forms or finding them a new place to live.

It's a trying time. You want the best for your parents, but you probably can't afford to quit your job to focus on them full-time. And if you're going to be contributing to their living expenses, you definitely can't quit your job. Which is why I thought it might be helpful to do an interview with Pamala Temple, who co-founded A Place for Mom, which has one sole mission: to help grown children find a place for their elderly parents to live. And, it should be noted, it's a free service.(Most nursing homes, assisted living facilities and the like pay a commission to places like A Place for Mom, which is how these businesses stay in business.)

Incidentally, no need to ask your dad to go the Tootsie or Bosom Buddies route. The name A Place for Mom is a misnomer -- they find places for fathers, too.

WalletPop: So what are the biggest mistakes that people tend to make when looking for a place for their parents to live?

Pamala Temple: The biggest mistake we see adult children make is also the number one way people find senior care in the United States. They drive by. Imagine that -- selecting health care for your parents because the building looks nice, or you saw a sign.

But what if it's a really nice sign...? No, no, just kidding. Agreed. Not a good idea.

Pamala Temple:
Choosing senior care for a loved one should be based on a through knowledge of their needs, and a complete picture of which senior care providers in the area can meet those needs, provide great care and stay within your budget. A second common mistake is waiting until the need for senior care becomes urgent. Then two things happen -- one, the senior now requires such a high level of care that they wind up in a nursing home rather than a more community or home-like setting of assisted living or lower acuity providers. And two, faced with an urgent need, the adult child has no time to research the best care options in the area and gets forced to make a quick decision because Dad's being discharged from the hospital tomorrow.

So obviously this can be a huge financial burden. I know your company helps finding the right place for a parent, but economically speaking, are the affordable options as few and sparse as we imagine?

Pamala Temple:
It's a fact that care can be very expensive [but], there are many great, affordable options that people aren't aware of. One of those options is a residential care home. Those are private homes where the care is delivered by live-in caretakers in a home-like environment. The care levels offered vary from home to home but some provide the same amenities that you'd see in a traditional assisted living or even nursing home, just at a more affordable price. Another resource for veterans and surviving spouses of veterans is the Veterans Aid and Attendance Pension. For those who qualify, the benefit pays up to $1,500 per month towards assisted living or skilled nursing or home care. Learning what Medicaid can and can't do is also something families should explore.

Geoff Williams is a business journalist and the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Race Across America (Rodale).
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